Against the Wind by Bob Seger

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Against the Wind by Bob SegerIn early 1980, Bob Seger completed his trifecta of commercial smash hit albums with the release of Against the Wind. It was his eleventh overall studio album, the fourth to feature (in part) the Silver Bullet Band and the second to include some tracks recorded by the Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section. While building on the tremendous success of his previous two releases, this record ultimately became Seger’s only number one album as it spent six weeks on top of the American album charts.

With a long and winding career that dated back to the early 1960s, Seger finally achieved his widespread commercial breakthrough the 1976 album Night Moves and this was followed up with the nearly-equally as successful 1978 album Stranger in Town. Seger also rose as a cross-over composer as he co-wrote the Eagles’ #1 hit song “Heartache Tonight” from their The Long Run and his song “We’ve Got Tonight” later became a worldwide hit for Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton in 1983.

Co-produced by Seger with Punch Andrews and Bill Szymczyk, Against the Wind alternates between Seger’s reflective, mid-tempo acoustic ballads and upbeat, slick old-time rockers with simpler themes.


Against the wind by Bob Seger
Released: February 25, 1980 (Capitol)
Produced by: Punch Andrews, Bill Szymczyk & Bob Seger
Recorded: 1979
Side One Side Two
The Horizontal Bop
You’ll Accomp’ny Me
Her Strut
No Man’s Land
Long Twin Silver Line
Against the Wind
Good for Me
Betty Lou’s Gettin’ Out Tonight
Fire Lake
Shinin’ Brightly
Primary Musicians
Bob Seger – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Drew Abbott – Guitars
Chris Campbell – Bass
David Teegarden – Drums, Percussion

“The Horizontal Bop” starts things off as a heavy blues rocker with an extended jam towards the end. This song was later released as the fourth single from the album, but failed to reach the Top 40. In great contrast to the opener in both style and success, “You’ll Accomp’ny Me” is a fine acoustic ballad with dynamic vocals by Seger, which reached the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. The cool, riff-driven hard rocker “Her Strut” is the real highlight of Side One, with Seger’s treated lead vocals delivering catchy lyrics along with the potent bass by Chris Campbell and the indelible guitar riff Drew Abbott.

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm section comes in for the next two tracks, the pleasant acoustic folk “No Man’s Land” with a fine closing guitar lead by Pete Carr and the upbeat rocker “Long Twin Silver Line”, which features an interesting ascending verse melody. While the Silver Bullet Band returns to back the masterpiece title track, the song is musically highlighted by the piano of guest Paul Harris. This masterful composition with a dedicated coda features lyrics which compare Seger’s high school days as a long distance runner with the rat race and duplicity of the music industry.

Bob Seger live

For the rest of Side Two, the album thins out a bit in quality with a pleasant country waltz of “Good for Me”, the old time rock-n-roll of “Betty Lou’s Gettin’ Out Tonight” and the Eagles-like country folk of “Shinin’ Brightly”, which finishes the album with an upbeat, positive message and prominently features saxophone by Alto Reed. The best of these lot is “Fire Lake”, a song originally written for Seger’s 1975 album Beautiful Loser and featuring Glen Frey and Don Henley from the Eagles on backing vocals. Released as the lead single from the album, “Fire Lake” was a Top 5 hit in both the US and Canada.

Against the Wind reached 5x Platinum in sales and won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. This high-water commercial mark was something Seger later admitted as his goal for this album as he was “gunning for nothing less than a chart-topping hit when he entered the studio”.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.

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Fullfillingness’ First Finale by Stevie Wonder

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Fullfilligness First Finale by Stevie WonderAt the age of just 24, Stevie Wonder released his 17th studio album with 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale. This record came when the composer, musician and vocalist was in the heart of his prime creative output  and features Wonder playing most of the instruments along with an array of backing vocalists. The result is a refined blend of pop, jazz and soul using economical musical arrangements along with a somber and reflective lyrical tone overall.

In 1971, Wonder had allowed his Motown contract to expire after nearly a decade on the famed label as an adolescent star. After two independently recorded albums, he negotiated a new contract with Motown Records which gave him more musical autonomy starting with the 1972 Music of My Mind, a full-length artistic statement with some lyrics that dealt with social and political issues. Talking Book followed later that year and featured a couple of number 1 hits, “Superstition” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, which also won three Grammy Awards between them. In 1973 won three more Grammy Awards with the epic social consciousness of the record Innervisions.

Wonder nearly lost his life when he was in a serious car accident while on tour in August 1973. After months of recovering and a renewed sense of faith and personal strength, he got back on tour and developed songs through improvisation and introspection in early 1974. Fulfillingness’ First Finale was co-produced by Wonder along with Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil and was recorded at multiple studios in New York City and Los Angeles.


Fullfillingness’ First Finale by Stevie Wonder
Released: July 22, 1974 (Tamla)
Produced by: Stevie Wonder, Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil
Recorded: Record Plant Studios and Westlake Recording Studios, Los Angeles; Media Sound and Electric Lady Studios, New York, 1974
Side One Side Two
Smile Please
Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away
Too Shy To Say
Boogie On Reggae Woman
Creepin’
You Haven’t Done Nothin’
It Ain’t No Use
They Won’t Go When I Go
Bird of Beauty
Please Don’t Go
Primary Musicians
Stevie Wonder – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Drums, Percussion
Michael Sembello – Guitars
Reggie McBride – Bass
Deniece Williams, Minnie Riperton, Shirley Brewer – Backing Vocals

 

The smooth pop/jazz ballad of the opener “Smile Please” sets the warm vibe for the album, led by Wonder’s Fender Rhodes piano and the Latin flavored guitar of Michael Sembello. “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” is ultimately a Gospel song where Wonder conveys confidence in his devotion and is backed by an array of backing vocalists including pop legend Paul Anka. “Too Shy to Say” follows as a different kind of ballad with Wonder’s piano complemented by the steel guitar of Pete Kleinow, adding unique ambiance for this otherwise vocal-driven ballad.

The album takes an upbeat turn with “Boogie On Reggae Woman”, a Top 5 pop hit which melds reggae with mid-seventies and displays Wonder’s incredible mastery of technologically diverse instrumentation. “Creepin'” is a pure soul love song featuring a small array of then-cutting-edge synthesizers, while the political and funky “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” is melodically entertaining with nice horn arrangement and features Wonder’s overdubbed orchestra of percussive elements. This second side opener also features members of The Jackson 5 on background vocals.

Stevie Wonder on stage

The latter part of this record is where the pure genius resides. “It Ain’t No Use” returns to the spiritually driven theme with the expert use of backing vocals in a smooth soul vibe swelling to a stronger hook while maintaining its overall compositional integrity. The haunting “They Won’t Go When I Go” was co-written by Yvonne Wright and features a sound both ancient and modern as well as a chorus of self-harmonizing by Wonder. With a combo of his smooth and upbeat styles along with great melody and strategic backing vocal chants, Wonder delivers a masterpiece with the aptly titled “Bird of Beauty”, which is also rhythmically interesting due to his fine drumming and Moog bass. “Please Don’t Go”, an excellent, upbeat love song closes the album with a style that forecasts the best elements of modern day R&B, including a fine mix of electric piano and synths and a sweet, piercing harmonica lead to climax the mood before the crescendo of the final verse and coda brings it all home.

Fullfillingness’ First Finale was Wonder’s first to officially top the Pop Albums charts and, like its two predecessors, this album received three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal and Best Male Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance. In fact, when Paul Simon won the Album Of The Year Grammy the following for year for Still Crazy After All These Years, he sarcastically thanked Stevie Wonder for not making an album in 1975.

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

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The White Stripes

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The White StripesThe self-titled 1999 debut by the Michigan based debut, The White Stripes was at once a nod back to the American blues from the century about to end and a preview of the minimalist arrangements trend of the century to come. With great economy, the husband and wife duo of vocalist/guitarist Jack White and drummer Meg White deliver a loud, raunchy, unique blend of blues, punk, country and metal among this generous collection of both originals and covers.

Jack Gillis met Meg White while he still was in high school and a drummer in a local band. The two began to frequent local music venues together. The two married in 1996 and Jack defied convention by taking his wife’s surname. The following year, Meg first began to learn the drums as Jack migrated to guitar and they found a surprising synergy together as a duo. They chose the name “The White Stripes” due to their last name and Meg’s love of peppermint hard candy. They also deliberately crafted their mysterious image by only outfitting their production in only the colors red, black and white, refusing to be interviewed separately, and occasionally (and bizarrely) presenting themselves as brother and sister.

In 1998, The White Stripes recorded and released the singles “Let’s Shake Hands” and “Lafayette Blues” on the Detroit-based independent label Italy Records. The debut album was recorded in Detroit in January 1999 with producer Jim Diamond and released in the summer of that year.


The White Stripes by The White Stripes
Released: June 5, 1999 (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
Produced by: Jack White & Jim Diamond
Recorded: Ghetto Recorders and Third Man Studios, Detroit, January 1999
Track Listing Group Musicians
Jimmy the Exploder
Stop Breaking Down
The Big Three Killed My Baby
Suzy Lee
Sugar Never Tasted So Good
Wasting My Time
Cannon
Astro
Broken Bricks
When I Hear My Name
Do
Screwdriver
One More Cup of Coffee
Little People
Slicker Drips
St. James Infirmary Blues
I Fought Piranhas
Jack White – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Meg White – Drums

The White Stripes

 

Starting with the original ,”Jimmy the Exploder”, The White Stripes album contains 17 total tracks with just a handful clocking in at more than three minutes. Early on, there is a good cover of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”, where Jack White provides a slide lick repeated throughout. “The Big Three Killed My Baby” refers to the major Detroit automakers and the charge that they are manufacturing automobiles which are intentionally engineered to become prematurely obsolete.

“Suzy Lee” features a beautiful bluesy electric slide by guest Johnny Walker set in between Jack White’s heavy riffing that makes this a bit of a modern classic, while “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” is a bit less refined and more spontaneous with Meg White providing some odd percussion effects. This album was officially dedicated to Delta blues legend Son House and the track “Cannon” features an a cappella section of the traditional American gospel blues song “John the Revelator”. The hyperactive “Broken Bricks” was co-written by Stephen Gillis as a full-fledged garage-rock romp.

The White Stripes

Not all the tracks on The White Stripes are top-notch and, in fact, some are pure filler and/or downright frivolous. These include (the aptly titled) “Wasting My Time”, “Astro”, “Screwdriver”, “Little People” and “Slicker Drips”. However, the latter part of the album is saved by a couple of good renditions of cover songs. The isolation tone of Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” is followed by the traditional “St. James Infirmary Blues”, where Jack White breaks the formula and plays a decent piano throughout. Walker returns to provide slide guitar on the album closer “I Fought Piranhas”.

While The White Stripes did reach Gold status in the United States, it didn’t really receive much attention or critique until a few years later when the duo’s fame began to spread. Still, this set the pace for more success to come in the new millennium, starting with 2000’s De Stijl, the home recorded analog follow-up album.

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

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Crimson and Clover by
Tommy James & the Shondells

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Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the ShondellsTommy James and the Shondells hit their creative and commercial climax  in 1969 with their sixth studio album, Crimson and Clover. This album combines some heavy psychedelic elements with the group’s core pop/R&B sensibilities for a potent cross-section of authentic fine sixties music. Crimson and Clover is also the first album in which the group’s leader, vocalist and guitarist Tommy James, played a large part in composing the bulk of the material.

The group’s roots stretch back a decade to 1959 in Michigan, when a 12-year-old James formed Tom and the Tornadoes, with the group releasing its first single, “Long Pony Tail”, in 1962. James renamed the band the Shondells in 1964 when they recorded the single “Hanky Panky” for local label Snap Records, which was a modest local hit in the Midwest but not big enough to keep the original Shondells together past high school graduation. The following year, a Pittsburgh dance promoter discovered the single and played it at various events and on radio stations, generating enough interest to attract James to play shows in Western Pennsylvania. A second version of the backing band was recruited in Greensburg, PA, including keyboardist Ron Rosman and bassist Mike Vale.

With this new touring group, James made a deal with Roulette Records to receive national promotion, which drove “Hanky Panky” to number 1 on the pop charts in July 1966. More success quickly followed, including the Top Ten hits “I Think We’re Alone Now” (1967), “Mirage” (1968) and “Mony Mony” (1968), all of which were penned by outside writers. In late 1968, the group was given artistic control by Roulette and decided to take a new direction by writing their own songs and self-producing their next album, Crimson and Clover.


Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells
Released: January, 1969 (Roulette)
Produced by: Tommy James and the Shondells
Recorded: 1968
Side One Side Two
Crimson and Clover
Kathleen McArthur
I’m a Tangerine
Do Something to Me
Crystal Blue Persuasion
Sugar on Sunday
Breakaway
Smokey Roads
I’m Alive
Group Musicians
Tommy James – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Eddie Gray – Guitars, Vocals
Ron Rosman – Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Vale – Bass, Vocals
Peter Lucia – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Co-written by drummer Peter Lucia, the album’s opening title track is a juxtaposition of James soulful vocals and the heavily treated tremolo guitar effect. This sets the stage for the overall vibe of “Crimson and Clover”, which was recorded by James, Vale and Lucia as an intended single, released ahead of the album in late 1968 and topped the US pop charts in February 1969. The song was also a hit internationally, reaching number one in six other nations. The next track, “Kathleen McArthur”, is an English folk style tune complete with harpsichord, flute and lyrics about a servant falling secretly for the daughter of his aristocratic employer, while “I’m a Tangerine” appears to be an overt attempt at psychedelic pop with strong influence from early Pink Floyd.

“Do Something to Me” is the album’s only cover track but this Top 40 hit takes a refreshing turn back to straight-forward rock n’ roll with an Elvis inspired revival complete with a “fake” live audience reaction such as whistling, hooting and hollering. The album’s best overall song is “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, co-written by guitarist Eddie Gray, features a unique and excellent blend of psychedelic guitar, soul bass, hand percussion, flamenco acoustic and melodic vocals. Later on Vale’s bass leads into a key change upward that completes this song as a classic,which made it to #2 on the charts.

Tommy James and the Shondells

The rest of the album features a diverse set of interesting songs. “Sugar on Sunday” dips back into the psychedelic bubblegum, although this one does have some interesting elements, with an almost Gospel-like feel from the backing vocals. “Breakaway” is harder rock and experimental with a combination of fuzz guitar and basic soul piano providing dueling arrangements and a slight mid section led by bass. Backwards-masked spoken vocals leads to the ballad “Smokey Roads”, featuring some interesting drum transitions by Lucia, while “I’m Alive” features sharp guitars that break through the thumping rhythms and is thematically celebratory. The album concludes with an alternate take of the title track’s coda section to bring it all full circle.

In the year it was released, Crimson and Clover reached the Top 10 of the album charts and maintained its esteem through the next half century. However, the group did not persist much longer, as the Shondells disbanded in early 1970 when Tommy James collapsed after a show and was initially pronounced dead. He did recover and launched a solo career shortly after.

~

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Infidels by Bob Dylan

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Infidels by Bob DylanIn 1983, Bob Dylan released his studio album, Infidels. With this, Dylan received his highest critical and commercial success in nearly a decade. Still, through time, Infidels received criticism for not including some classic tracks like “Foot of Pride”, “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart” and “Blind Willie McTell”, which were both recorded for this album but ultimately omitted. The latter of these would not be released until an outtakes album in 1991 but has come to be considered a true classic in Dylan’s expansive portfolio.

Late in the 1970s, Dylan became an evangelical Christian and, after dedicating three months of discipleship, he decided to release a trilogy of Gospel influenced music. Slow Train Coming (1979) was well-received critically, won Dylan a Grammy award for the song “Gotta Serve Somebody”, and marked his first work with Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler. The subsequent albums Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981) were less regarded by critics and fans.

Co-produced by Knofler, Infidels was seen as a return to Dylan’s secular music roots. He initially wanted to self-produce the album but capitulated due to his lack of knowledge of emerging recording technology. Dylan had spoken with David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Elvis Costello about producing this album before hiring Knopfler.

 


Infidels by Bob Dylan
Released: October 27, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan
Recorded: The Power Station, New York City, April-May 1983
Side One Side Two
Jokerman
Sweetheart Like You
Neighborhood Bully
License to Kill
Man of Peace
Union Sundown
I and I
Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Mark Knopfler – Guitars
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Alan Clark – Piano, Keyboards
Robbie Shakespeare – Bass
Sly Dunbar – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with its strongest tune, “Jokerman”, which is musically led by Robbie Shakespeare‘s thumping bass and the subtle duo guitars of Knopfler and former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. Meanwhile, Dylan provides potent lyrics and great melody and, although very repetitive, the song has much forward motion due to the increasing vocal intensity as well as the subtle building of musical arrangement and fine harmonica leads late in the song. Released as a single in 1984, “Jokerman” simultaneously spawned Dylan’s MTV-era music video. “Sweetheart Like You” follows as a rather standard ballad with a good hook. Knofler’s influence is very evident in its arrangement which also features keyboardist Alan Clark.

Much of the material on Infidels has a solid rock or pop arrangement, displaying how far musically Dylan had strayed from the folk or roots based music he proliferated in the 1960s while still touching on the topical issues of the day. “Neighborhood Bully” has a new wave edge with a bit of Southern-style guitar slide while lyrically using sarcasm to defend Israel’s right to exist. “License to Kill” closes the first side as a slow and steady rocker with plenty of twangy and guitar motion with lyrics that address man’s relationship to the environment.

Bob Dylan in 1983

The surprising rock arrangements continue into the second side with the layered electric guitar riffs, Hammond organ of “Man of Peace” and the crisp rocker “Union Sundown”, with Clark providing some nice rocking piano in mix and guest Clydie King adding some backing vocals. “I and I” is an interesting tune with subtle verses and more forceful choruses, making it perhaps the best song on the album’s second side. The album concludes with the pleasant, upbeat ballad, “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight”, a purely traditional love song.

A gold selling record, Infidels Reach the Top 20 in the US and the Top 10 in the UK. This achievement would mark the artist’s best success in the decade of the 1980s up until the 1989 release of the classic Oh Mercy.

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.

 

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The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get

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The Smoker You Drink the Player You Get by Joe WalshThe second of two albums featuring singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joe Walsh with his backup group Barnstorm, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get features a fine selection of diverse rock, blues, folk and jazz. This diversity in style is parallel to the diversity of composers within Barnstorm as well as the multiple lead vocalists throughout the album. As a result, this 1973 album proved to be a commercial breakthrough for Walsh and the band, reaching the Top 10 in the United States.

After much success with James Gang, Walsh decided to leave that rock trio in late 1971. He relocated to Colorado, where he formed the band Barnstorm, with bassist Kenny Passarelli and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale. Very soon after forming, the group started recording their debut album, which was originally released as the eponymous Barnstorm (later listed as a Joe Walsh solo album) in October 1972. While a critical success, the album had only moderate commercial success.

The group immediately began work on a follow-up in late 1972 with producer Bill Szymczyk. Recorded throughout the winter of 1972-1973, this second album features a fourth Barnstorm member, keyboardist Rocke Grace, although the album is fully credited to Walsh as a solo artist.


The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get by Joe walsh
Released: June 18, 1973 (ABC-Dunhill)
Produced by: Joe Walsh & Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: 1972-1973
Side One Side Two
Rocky Mountain Way
Book Ends
Wolf
Midnight Moodies
Happy Ways
Meadows
Dreams
Days Gone By
Day Dream (Prayer)
Primary Musicians
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards. Vocals
Kenny Passarelli – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Rocke Grace – Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Vitale – Drums, Percussion, Drums, Keyboards, Flute, Vocals

The album begins with its most popular and indelible track, “Rocky Mountain Way”, compositionally credited to all four Barnstorm members. This entertaining, methodical rocker features a masterful coda section with an impressive talk box lead followed by Walsh’s signature slide guitar as the song fades out. Lyrically, the song was inspired by Walsh reflecting on his decision to leave the James Gang and move to Colorado and it became Walsh’s first Top 40 hit.

Vitale’s “Book Ends” is a Bowie-esque glam ballad with piano and nicely treated guitars on top, while the drummer takes on lead vocals duties, followed by the dark folk, almost pyschedelic vibe of “Wolf”, where the minimal arrangement lets the full sonic effect shine through as well as concentrate on Walsh’s vocal delivery. “Midnight Moodies” is a jazzy, piano-led instrumental composed by Grace, with some good rhythms, slight rock guitar as well as plenty of flute flourishes by Vitale. “Happy Ways” features lead vocals by bassist Passarelli along with plenty of extra percussion added by Vitale and session percussionist Joe Lala.

Joe Walsh and Barnstorm

The album’s original second side begins with “Meadows”, a rocker with multiple dynamics throughout from the hard rocking chorus to the quiet acoustic mid section. “Dreams” may be the best overall song on the second side as a very unique track which highlights Barnstorm’s musical talent and versatility. It alternates from quiet jazz ballad to upbeat Gospel sound with piano and organ playing a large musical role throughout. Vitale’s “Days Gone By” is a pleasant enough jazz/pop/rocker but an odd one as the final proper song on the album, being a sort of fusion between the sounds of Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and a Broadway show tune. “Day Dream (Prayer)” was constructed as a stand-alone coda, featuring rich backing vocals by guests Venetta Fields and Clydie King and really only one proper verse before a long fade out ending the album.

In 1974, Walsh played slide guitar on Vitale’s debut solo album, Roller Coaster Weekend, continuing a decades long musical relationship between the two despite the fact that Barnstorm would break up following The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get. Later that same year, Walsh released his first totally solo record, So What, which was much more introspective and much less musically diverse than this final Barnstorm album.

~

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You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish by REO Speedwagon

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You Can Tune a Piano but You Cant Tuna Fish by REO SpeedwagoOften derided for its ludicrous title and album cover, You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish was nonetheless the most important benchmark for REO Speedwagon. Released in 1978, this was the seventh studio album by the Illinois-based rock band who had worked relentlessly throughout the decade but, prior to this record, failed to make the Top 40. You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish peaked at number 29 and went on to achieve double platinum status in the US.

Named after a classic flat bed truck, REO Speedwagon was formed in 1967 at the University of Illinois in Champaign by keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Alan Gratzer as a cover band playing in campus bars, fraternity parties, and university events. After several lineup shifts, guitarist Gary Richrath joined in late 1970 and the regional popularity of the band grew tremendously, leading to a deal with Epic Records and the band’s self-titled debut album in 1971. The group twice replaced lead singers before Kevin Cronin permanently joined the group in January 1976. The following year, the group released a live album and relocated to Los Angeles.

Recording of You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish took place in Illinois and California in late 1977 and early 1978. This album was the first to feature bassist Bruce Hall and it was co-produced by Cronin and Richrath along with Paul Grupp and John Boylan.


You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish by REO Speedwagon
Released: March 16, 1978 (Epic)
Produced by: Kevin Cronin, Gary Richrath, Paul Grupp, & John Boylan
Recorded: Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles & Paragon Recording Studios, Chicago, 1977-1978
Side One Side Two
Roll with the Changes
Time for Me to Fly
Runnin’ Blind
Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again
Sing to Me
Lucky for You
Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?
The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot
Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight
Group Musicians
Kevin Cronin – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Gary Richrath – Guitars
Neal Doughty – Keyboards
Bruce Hall – Bass, Vocals
Alan Gratzer – Drums, Vocals

 

The album launches with “Roll with the Changes”, a piano-based rocker by Cronin which would soon go on to become a classic rock staple. Richrath’s heavy, whining guitar is accented throughout with Dougherty taking his turn with a Hammond organ lead and a rich backing chorus belting out the catchy counter hook. The album’s other anchor comes next with “Time for Me to Fly”, a classic breakup song that is built like an early prototype for some of the better eighties power ballads which would come later. Built on the pleasant musical combo of Cronin’s 12-string acoustic and Dougherty’s Moog synthesizer along with fine melodic, vocals and a harmonized double bridge, which bookmarks the slight guitar lead. While both of these tracks would go on to be classics, they did not receive initial pop notoriety as both failed to chart in the Top 40.

Richrath’s first composition, “Runnin’ Blind”, was co-written by Debbie Mackron and is highlighted by a pure, thick guitar sound. “Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again” is another acoustic ballad with some heavier elements added on top for a harder rock effect and high pop accessibility. The original first side concludes with Richrath’s short but heavy “Sing to Me”.

REO Speedwagon in 1978

Side two is filled with hard rock material and is anchored by a couple of tracks with extended jams. Although lyrically weak, “Lucky for You” is musically supreme with some excellent bass by Hall as well as later harmonized lead guitars which sheppard in the extended jams of the second half of track. After the Southern rock tinged “Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?” and the filler instrumental “The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot”, comes the closer “Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight” a strong, pure rocker highlighted by Dougherty’s piano lead and guest Lon Price‘s intermittent saxophone licks.

You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish set the stage for super-stardom during the 1980s. REO Speedwagon also started to morph from hard rock to more pop-oriented and ballad-centric material as the new decade unfolded.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

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John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan

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John Wesley Harding by Bob DylanAfter a relatively long hiatus from recording due to a serious motorcycle accident, Bob Dylan returned to simple form and constructs with his eighth studio album, John Wesley Harding, at the end of 1967. This simple, folk and country album with a slight hint of spirituality was a notable departure from the Dylan’s previous three albums in 1965 and 1966 (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and the double-length Blonde On Blonde).

It had been over a year since the release of Blonde On Blonde when Dylan began work on John Wesley Harding in the Autumn of 1967. The July 1966 motorcycle accident near his home in Woodstock, NY, gave him the opportunity to break from nearly five straight years of non-stop touring, recording and promoting. After his recovery, Dylan spent a substantial amount of time recording informal demos with members of The Band, later dubbed “the basement tapes” and released on a 1975 album of the same title. Oddly, although Dylan submitted nearly all of the basement tape tunes for copyright, he decided not to include any of this material for his next studio release.

Instead, Dylan went to Nashville with producer Bob Johnston and a simple rhythm section made up of bassist Charlie McCoy and drummer Kenneth Buttrey. In total, the twelve album tracks took under twelve hours of studio time to record and the release of John Wesley Harding was just as expedited, arriving in stores less than four weeks after the final recordings were made. A unique attribute of this album is the inclusion of liner notes written by Dylan, which incorporate song details through the telling of fictional stories.


John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Released: December 27, 1967 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Nashville, October–November, 1967
Side One Side Two
John Wesley Harding
As I Went Out One Morning
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
All Along the Watchtower
The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
Drifter’s Escape
Dear Landlord
I Am a Lonesome Hobo
I Pity the Poor Immigrant
The Wicked Messenger
Down Along the Cove
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Charlie McCoy – Bass
Kenneth A. Buttrey – Drums

 

Most of the tracks on this album were first constructed lyrically with musical arrangements worked out later. The opening title track features a bright acoustic with bouncy bass and rhythms and tells the tale of real-life Texas outlaw John Wesley Hardin (the song and album title spelled his name incorrectly). “As I Went Out One Morning” is almost too short as its fine rhythmic pace seems to be abruptly ended just as the track is heating up. In contrast, “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” is more like traditional, Dylan-flavored folk with a slight nod towards Country or Gospel in its delivery.

The most indelible two and a half minutes on the album, “All Along the Watchtower” has a strong rotating rhythm to accompany Dylan’s memorable lyrical passages which echo passages from the Biblical Book of Isaiah. This song would be brought to full realization with the much more famous Jimi Hendrix Experience version on the 1968 double album Electric Ladyland. “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” features a bright storytelling atmosphere that is almost farcical in its light delivery while at once attempting to portray a moral message. Closing out the original first side is “Drifter’s Escape”, where Dylan’s desperate, weepy vocals and soulful harmonica are in nice contrast to consistent, monotone rhythms.

Bob Dylan in 1967

The waltzy, piano based tune “Dear Landlord” starts side two with interesting chord progressions, followed by the wicked harmonica intro which sets the scene for “I Am a Lonesome Hobo”. These are followed by the rather forgettable folk songs “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” and “The Wicked Messenger” before a refreshing change of pace late to complete the album. Both “Down Along the Cove” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” were recorded during the final album sessions and each feature Pete Drake on pedal steel guitar (an inclusion which Johnston wanted to use more on the album, but was overruled by Dylan). Both of these tracks are warm, cheerful love songs, with the closer having a distinct Country arrangement which seems to preview Dylan’s next studio release, Nashville Skyline in 1969.

Even though Bob Dylan intentionally had this album released without publicity or accompanying singles, it still charted very highly in both the US and UK. Following its release, Dylan made his first live appearance in nearly two years, Backed by The Band at a Woody Guthrie memorial concert in January 1968, but returned to seclusion for much of the rest of that year.
~

1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

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Chicago V

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Chicago VContinuing an incredible run of musical output and commercial success, Chicago released their fifth overall album in a 39 month span with 1972’s Chicago V. The fourth studio album by the seven-piece ensemble, this release is notable for actually being the first that was of standard, single-LP length. Keyboardist Robert Lamm stepped to the forefront more than any single band member on this album, composing eight out of the ten songs on Chicago V.

By the time this record was recorded in the Fall of 1971, Chicago had recorded three successful double-length studio albums – Chicago Transit Authority in 1969, Chicago II in 1970, and Chicago III in January 1971. The group had also toured almost continuously during these years, which spawned their fourth release, Chicago at Carnegie Hall late in 1971.

Chicago V was recorded in New York City in just over a week with producer James William Guercio, who had produced each of Chicago’s albums to date. This one would be the most successful yet, reaching the top of the charts where it spent a total of nine weeks as well as achieving longstanding regard as one of Chicago’s finest albums ever.


Chicago V by Chicago
Released: July 10, 1972 (Columbia)
Produced by: James William Guercio
Recorded: 52nd Street Studios, New York, September 1971
Side One Side Two
A Hit by Varèse
All Is Well
Now That You’ve Gone
Dialogue (Part I)
Dialogue (Part II)
While the City Sleeps
Saturday In the Park
State of the Union
Goodbye
Alma Mater
Group Musicians
Terry Kath – Guitars, Vocals
Robert Lamm – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Cetera – Bass, Vocals
Lee Loughnane – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Vocals
James Pankow – Trombone, Brass Arrangements, Vocals
Walter Parazaider – Saxophones, Flute, Vocals
Danny Seraphine – Drums, Percussion

“A Hit by Varèse” starts things off as a tribute to French-American composer Edgard Varèse, who was a huge influence on Lamm and known to experiment with new musical technology early in the 20th century. This track works in that spirit with some “free form” distorted guitar by Terry Kath in the intro along with a jazzy beat accented by horns in the verses and a cool sax trade-off lead by Walter Parazaider later on. “All Is Well” follows as a more standard pop “break up” song by Lamm, while trombonist James Pankow offers his sole composition with “Now That You’ve Gone”, a track ushered in by the rolling drums of Danny Seraphine and reaching a nice blend of funk and soul along with Chicago’s already diverse sound.

Finishing off the original first side is Lamm’s two part suite “Dialogue”. In Part I, the song’s lyrics are a musical dialogue between lead singers Kath and bassist Peter Cetera, while Part II features a repeated groove along with a chorus hook sung by multiple band members. Side two begins with the tension-filled, horn-led, politically-charged “While the City Sleeps”, which later features an antagonistic guitar lead by Kath.

Chicago in 1972
Following the stark side opener comes the refreshing contrast of “Saturday in the Park”, a bright celebration of a summer day. Lamm was inspired to write the song after walking through New York City’s Central on the Fourth of July, 1971 (actually a Sunday) and he immediately documented the action of various musicians, merchants and passers-by. The indelible piano along with melodic vocal duet of Lamm and Cetera, helped propel this song to #1 for the band. The next two tracks, the funky “State of the Union” and the cool, Latin-influenced “Goodbye”, each feature Cetera taking solo lead vocals, something he would do much more regularly in later years. The album concludes with Kath’s somber “Alma Mater”, a piano and acoustic guitar driven track with rich harmonies that  give it a Gospel feel.

Through the mid 1970s, Chicago continued to release successful albums enumerated by Roman numerals (Chicago VI in 1973, Chicago VII in 1974, etc…), ultimately becoming the the top US singles charting group of the decade according to Billboard magazine.

~

1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

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Days of the New

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Days of the NewDays of the New came out of the gate in 1997 and forged their own style of dark acoustic rock. This style is expertly exhibited throughout the group’s debut album which features a dozen tracks written by lead vocalist and guitarist Travis Meeks. The first of three self-titled albums, Days of the New was relevant and successful in 1997 due to its fresh acoustic approach and catchy vocal hooks.  The album has held up well over the course of the two decades since it was first released.

The group got its start in the Indiana suburbs of Louisville, KY as a rock trio called Dead Reckoning. At the time of its formation and recording of this debut album, Meeks, bassist Jesse Vest and drummer Matt Taul were all still teenagers. Soon the group turned towards an exclusively acoustic sound and added a second guitarist, Todd Whitener.

After just three live performances in 1996, the freshly named Days of the New was signed by producer Scott Litt and recorded this debut album the Fall of that year. In time, this initial release would be nicknamed the “Orange” or “Yellow” album after the color of its cover and would sell over a million and a half copies worldwide.


Days of the New by Days of the New
Released: June 3, 1997 (Geffen)
Produced by: Scott Litt
Recorded: Woodland Studios, Nashville, Tennessee, October-November 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Shelf in the Room
Touch, Peel and Stand
Face of the Earth
Solitude
The Down Town
What’s Left for Me?
Freak
Now
Whimsical
Where I Stand
How Do You Know You?
Cling
Travis Meeks – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Todd Whitener – Guitars, Vocals
Jesse Vest – Bass
Matt Taul – Drums

Days of the New

 

The opening hit track “Shelf in the Room” stays mellow and moderate throughout while maintaining enough melody and mood to propel it to sustain its pop viability. The song would reach the Top 5 of the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart in 1998 and become a radio staple for several years. Another popular song, “Touch, Peel and Stand” features a more dynamic approach and a bit more tempo than the opening track. During the verses, Meeks’ vocals mimic Vest’s bass line, while the choruses feature some fine harmonized vocals, which all helped make this the group’s biggest charting hit. “Face of the Earth” follows with a bit more complex arrangement and some lead vocal effects, while “Solitude” has an odd-timed, waltz like beat as a backdrop for the now common acoustic riffs and vocal-drone motifs.

“The Down Town” is the best overall song on the album with its unique chord progression and infectious rhythms. The second single from the album, this song topped the Mainstream Rock charts in 1998 and is one of the more upbeat tracks. “What’s Left for Me?” features a finger-picked intro with strong rhythmic rudiments later joining, while “Freak” plays on a musical arpeggio and repeated, honed in lyrical themes.

Days Of the New

Later in the album there are a few more interesting moments before it all begins to lose steam. “Now” comes close to being a sad ballad, softer and more introspective than much of other material, and it features great variations of pick and strums and an extended, multi-part acoustic lead with slightly Spanish style by Whitener. “Whimsical” has additional fine musicianship and unique arrangements, while “Where I Stand” comes in with an acoustic / Western like jam before the song proper steers it back into the grunge direction – this also features some layered vocal motifs and arrangements and some hand percussion during the later jam section.
Unfortunately, by the time we reach “How Do You Know You?”, we’ve reached the point where everything becomes repetitive and even slightly annoying. The low-fi closer “Cling” does little to remedy this, save for the chiming guitars which, while still acoustic, have an almost electric feel.

Shortly after releasing Days of the New, the group got on the touring circuit with Metallica and Jerry Cantrell starting in West Palm Beach, Florida on June 24, 1998. Meeks later criticized this billing, stating that, due to their acoustic sound, Days of the New should have toured with a group like Dave Matthews Band. However, inner discord between Meeks and the other band members caused some cancelled shows and, ultimately, this original incarnation of the band split in 1999. Meeks formed a new band under the name Days of the New and recorded a second album in late 1999.

~

1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

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